Science Fiction

There are typically two types of books that I lean towards when populating my reading list: Sci-fi/Fantasy books or books on theology and Christian living. It’s a strange combination, I suppose, but says a lot about the things I ponder, when I’m not thinking about Batman or cheeseburgers. As an aspiring author, these are actually the two types of writing that I’d like to delve into some day, and there is usually a stark separation between the two (although I’ve shared before how I think this should not always be so).

Over the weekend, there were some interesting discussions going on in a few Christian blogs about the absence of speculative fiction (sci-fi/fantasy/horror, etc.) from the world of Christian publishing. This all seemed to start over at ReveLife with a post about how Science Fiction Goes with the Christian Life, which discusses the myriad of thematic elements that are relevant for Christians in the realm of sci-fi. Personally, I think it raises some good points, especially considering that science fiction’s most powerful ability is to turn the magnifying glass on present culture by way of the future or the seemingly impossible. For reference material, see: Battlestar Galactica, the series.

This conversation later continued on Novel Journey, where writer Mike Duran posed the question about why Christian book publishers are so hesitant to support speculative fiction in the first place. What might be surprising to some — though not to me as I have seen this first hand — is that about 75-80% of most Christian fiction is in the romance genre. Personally, I never understood why so many people were dying for chaste romance novels; doesn’t Twilight do the same thing but with vampires?

Anyway, Mike Duran actually has a really cool quote on his personal blog about all of this, which is kind of what started poking at my brain in a good way.

My question to Christian readers who are turned off by supernatural story elements is this: Do you apply that same preference to the Bible? Heck, the very first book of Scripture contains stories about a talking serpent, an angel with a flaming sword driving sinners from Paradise, an entire city being destroyed by fire and brimstone, plagues of frogs and rivers of blood, sparring magicians, a death angel who slaughters firstborns, and an ocean parted at one man’s word. And that’s just the first book of the Bible! Read on and there’s a story about a witch who conjures the ghost of a prophet, an apostle whose shadow heals the sick, and four apocalyptic horseman who are en route to planet earth. And that’s just scratching the surface. So how can a Christian claim to dislike supernatural / paranormal story elements when the Bible contains so many of those elements?

Which brings me back to my initial observation: Could the preponderance of romance and Amish lit be indicative of a dangerous worldview shift amongst Christian readers — a shift away from a biblical worldview to something sanitized, stripped of mystery, and utterly predictable?

That last bit is something I’ve given quite a considerable amount of thought to in the last year or so, especially as I’ve been wanting to connect my faith and my creative life in relevant and honest ways. In our postmodern age, it seems that most often the Christian response to validate our faith is to present it as wholly logical and rational, as if to say, “take that science!”. Personally, I don’t know why this is even a concern for Christ followers. I’m not saying that the faith I hold to doesn’t have its own logical counterpoints to detractors, but there is supposed to be something mysterious and unknown about the whole thing. I can’t explain why God would choose to have grace on me, a sinner. It doesn’t make sense to me. While I wholeheartedly believe that theology is crucial, there is a point where you run into diminishing returns when trying to grasp and make something like that explainable. And to me, once you run into that, you start wanting to say that mystery has no place in faith, because everything has to be rational. So when does it stop being faith, is my question? These things might not be related at all, but in mind I can see a connection.

Lord of the Rings paintingAnyway, this mystery and supernatural wonder is why I’ve always held to the idea that Tolkien and others purported: namely, that speculative fiction (or fantasy in Tolkien’s case) is the truest form of fiction there is, because it expresses most accurately the supernatural reality that we live in every day. Put simply, there is our normal realm, of dudes doing dude things, and then another realm that we can’t see, with supernatural dudes doing supernatural things. Fantasy and speculative fiction seem to hit this on the head in a way that other stories can’t. Which is exactly why I want to write it.

It definitely saddens me that the kind of stories I want to write generally won’t be accepted in a market that I think could use some creative shots in the arm. We’ve already seen a portion of the evangelical world shun stories like Harry Potter, even though its themes are largely Christian (sacrificial love being the power to defeat death, grace, forgiveness, redemption, etc.). I guess I wonder where the line is, and what the publishers are so afraid of.

Is it the idea of magic, or supernatural beings that are not God Himself? Lord of the Rings has these elements as well as C.S. Lewis, and are stamped with approval. Is it swearing, killing, or adult content? If you took some of the more adult content out of the Bible, you’d have to chunk a huge bit of the Old Testament out, most especially Genesis. As Mike Duran pointed out, the Bible contains many of these things that capture imagination – so why are we so loathe to accept it?

As I said before, I want to come at the stories I write in an honest way. That means they are going to be full of scoundrels, murderers, general low-lives and yes, even some magic. But I don’t think that will mean that they suddenly lose any of their value. In fact, my hope is that it will enhance it.

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